It's been a while since I posted any updates. Don't take that to mean we don't have things still going on around the farm. There hasn't been a ton of things that are exciting or new (it is farming, after all), but we wanted to post about a few recent developments.
Chicken Run Peach Tree Planting
I've wanted to plant a peach tree for a few years now. Everything we plant gets a good dose of chicken run compost, as you know.
But what if we planted the trees IN the chicken run, and let them soak up all those excess nutrients in place? Any imperfect fruit could drop to the ground and be eaten by the chickens, again, right where it lands.
Anyone who has tried to combine plants and chickens know that it is a path fraught with risk, as chickens will scratch up most anything.
Enter rings of welded wire fence to keep the flock away from the peach trees until they get established and larger. A little coop-cleanout (manure, shavings, hay) as mulch, and hopefully we're in business.
I expect the rings to say in place for 1-3 years, after which they'll be removed and some large stones or logs will be placed around the trunks to keep the chickens from scratching up the roots. Around the same time the rings come off, I expect we'll start seeing a flood of summer peaches for us and the flock.
The peach trees are a dwarf variety, so they shouldn't get TOO big, but they should eventually provide both food and shade for the flock while providing us with plenty of fresh, healthy food.
I've used rings in the run with some luck in the past to grow a patch of fodder for the flock, and to keep them off a patch of freshly seeded grass.
Back in late April, we bought a chicken tractor locally here in Rhode Island. We didn't have an immediate need for it, but someone was looking to sell it and the price was very reasonable - as in far cheaper than the materials to build something similar.
It's a little heavy, a little awkward, and a lot pink.
The opportunity to put the tractor to work presented itself when someone reached out to us about rehoming a few older hens. We're happy enough to take on hens in situations like this. They may not lay a lot, but our feed costs are offset by all the food scraps and compost.
We put three of the hens in the tractor, and plan to leave them there long enough for them to scratch and eat all the grass and weeds under the tractor while tilling and fertilizing the area. We'll then move the tractor down the yard to repeat the process.
The newly cleared area behind the tractor will get a dose of compost and get planted to grass and clover.
We'll continue this through the end of grass planting season, at which point the birds will join the rest of the flock.
I could see repeating this many times as we slowly replant the entire yard.
We certainly don't want a monoculture lawn, but something stronger and greener with some pollinator supporting clover would be preferable to the current weedy lawn. Again, the key to growing good grass on our property seems to be chicken run compost.
Hopefully, the chicken tillers help too!
In case you were concerned that the ONLY digging I was doing was planting a few peach trees, rest assure that this isn't the case. We have two flower beds in front of our house that we wanted to re-do. We'd added compost and mulch on top of the beds, which had helped, but below that they were a rocky, root-tangled mess of terrible clay soil.
We decided to dig them up, replant the daffodil bulbs that have always done well there elsewhere in the yard, and fill them with chicken run compost and some new plants.
It's quite the large project, as I've already removed countless wheelbarrows full of dirt, rocks, and plant matter. What are we doing with all the materials we remove? They're going into the chicken run! We figure that all that lousy dirt will eventually turn into rich soil as it gets scratched up, pooped into, and mixed with compost in the run.
The picture to the right shows some of this poor quality dirt in the run, next to our hay bale composter.
There's still a lot of work to go, plus a lot more to bring good compost BACK to fill in the bed, but it'll be a good use of our compost and should set us up for years of low maintenance growing in the future.
So, as you can see, some activity on the farm this summer! We'll leave you with a picture of some chickens enjoying some rescued produce on the compost pile.